Forgione's BEST-Laid Plan for Closing Webb
On Feb. 5, Pat Forgione told the AISD board of trustees that Webb Middle School should close regardless of how the students perform this spring on the TAKS test. "Even if Webb meets the standards this year," he said, "my recommendation doesn't change." Forgione argues that closing the school will provide the district a facility either for a new all-boys academy or an international school and will allow the district to concentrate its resources on just three Northeast middle schools (Pearce, Dobie, and Garcia). The board had deferred until May a decision on Webb's future. He laid out a 10-point plan for the Northeast schools, which he's calling the "BEST" plan, for "Belief in our students," "Effort creates ability," "Supporting families," and "Targeting college."
1) Establish "Sixth-Grade Clusters" in Each School It can be hard for students to move from elementary to middle school. The sixth-grade clusters would aim to ease the transition, by housing the youngest students in a separate wing and giving them a more supportive environment. The clusters would, in effect, be their own school, although they would still have access to schoolwide electives like band and foreign-language instruction.
2) Implement Academic BEST Practices This system, already in use, uses assessment tests to pinpoint specific academic needs of individual students, whom the school can then provide with an extra period of English or math, reading help, or afterschool and Saturday instruction. The district will also continue to provide summer literacy and math academies for the students who fail the TAKS test.
3) Provide Leadership Academy/Summer Camps These camps would bring selected students together to help establish a "culture of high academic and behavioral expectations for the whole student body." The students would work together at the beginning of the new school year and, in general, set an example for the school.
4) Create Teacher/Parent/Family Connections The district plans to develop spring and summer orientation sessions to let staff get to know students and their families. The district would like principals and key staff members to be visible in the community. Parents would be provided with opportunities to further their own education through school-initiated community partnerships.
5) Implement Best Practices for English-Language Learners The Webb English Language Learners Academy, which provides intensive instruction for first-year immigrant students, will continue at all three schools, which will also provide specialized instruction for all English learners to develop their ability to read, write, and discuss texts in "academic English."
6) Create a College-Going Culture The BEST schools will prepare students for college by creating the thinking habits, note-taking skills, and work ethic necessary to succeed in college. They'll also provide information about higher education and the availability of financial and practical support and promote college visits and outreach programs.
7) Provide Professional Development for Teachers Core teachers would attend a summer professional development academy to learn "research-based strategies" in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and the best practices to support English-language learners.
8) Establish Incentives for Staff The district would provide additional compensation in order to recruit, retain, and reward experienced teachers at high-needs campuses.
9) Build Strong Relationships The BEST schools would implement or expand these programs: Advancement Via Individual Determination, which takes average students and helps them with advanced studies through a daily elective; Where Everybody Belongs, which provides support to students in their first year of middle school; Advisory Classes, where students meet with an adult for academic guidance; Ready for College, which follows students through high school and helps prepare them to succeed in college; Leadership Conferences for African-American and Hispanic Youth, which would bring community members, parents, school staff, and students to provide mentoring opportunities and role models.
10) Align Vertical Team Strategies The BEST schools aim to cultivate close relationships with LBJ and Reagan high schools, where most of their students will attend. The schools will share "community engagement and constituency building activities" and will look for ways the middle schools can implement parts of the high school redesign strategies.